Friday, December 19, 2014

An Alternative

“Sorry mate, full up.”
“What do you mean, full up?”
“Just what I said, full up!”
“Haven’t you seen the state of my wife?”
The innkeeper eased his copious figure further around the door frame and cast an indifferent eye over the tiny, tired woman with the blue shawl sitting on the donkey.
“She seems pretty far gone. Oh well. It’s a shame but it’s not my fault you know. If we had a room I’d give it to you mate. It’s this silly census business - bloody Herod with his petty bureaucracy. He just loves it, doesn’t he? All this paperwork. Oh well. Keeps the Romans busy, anyway.”
“Yes, but what about my wife? She’s not going to give birth out here in the street, is she? It’s Christmas for God’s sake!”
“It’s what?”
“Oh nevermind. Look, don’t you even have a stable or something?”
A Roman soldier appeared in the doorway and pushed past them, reeling. He wove a few steps into the street, singing, before he fell and lay face down in the mud, giggling to himself. Joseph and the innkeeper stared. He finally lurched to his feet and staggered off down the street, zigzagging wildly and shouting profanities at no-one in particular.
It was starting to rain and Mary looked visibly pissed-off. This wasn’t good news. His mind searching wildly for possibilities, Joseph’s eyes alighted on a small tatty brown leather pouch lying in the mud where the Roman had fallen. Without thinking, he scooped down to pick it up just as the innkeeper closed the door. Inside was a single bright shiny gold coin. He let out a yelp of joy and hammered on the door. The innkeeper opened up with a face like sour milk.
“You again?”
He was about to shut it when Joseph ducked in and stuck his foot in the door frame.
“Look - we have money,” he said, holding up his find with an enticing smile. “I will give you this whole bright shiny coin if only you’ll find a room for us at your inn until my wife’s given birth. It won’t be more than a day or two, I reckon. Come on, think of everything you could buy with this. That refurbishment?  A new horse and wagon?” He snatched the coin away from the innkeeper’s grubby reaching fingers and shook his head. “Show me the room first.”
The innkeeper turned back, muttering, and led the way up the stairs. “You’ll just have to sleep in our room then,” he wheezed. “My wife and I will sleep in the stable or something. Won’t kill us for a couple of nights, though it is awful cold.”
“Oh well, at least you’ll have the animals to keep you warm,” Joseph suggested, taking in the room. “And straw is an excellent insulator.”
Plush furnishings, glowing embers in the fireplace, four-poster bed. He smiled. No more ear-mashings from Mary. “Yes, this will do nicely,” Joseph nodded, throwing off his cape. “Thank you - arrange for our things to be brought up; I will go and get my wife. Oh and if you could put our donkey in your stable for the night...? He’ll help to keep you warm.”
He winked and tossed the coin up high in the air, watching as it turned over and over as though in slow motion. The innkeeper dived for it, his eyes seeming to pop out of their sockets and his mouth forming a dark O like a gutted fish.
Joseph watched him scrabble around the floor for it, shook his head, and swept off down the stairs to tell Mary.

by Sara Roberts

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Giggles

At first she didn’t fully notice. Like shadows, the grinning faces flickered in her vision. When she stopped at a crossing, she heard the snicker. It was almost like snorting: the hideous sound when somebody extrudes laughter and tries to inhale at same time. Like a pig! she thought, disgusted. The people behind her were whispering, as if sharing an inside joke. As the traffic lights shifted, she hurried to get away. The blisters on her feet were making her walk awkwardly. Yet she was determined to ignore the pain. The laughter pursued her, like an echo of every clunky step. 

Wearily, she carried on. She had been on her feet for hours, without caring where she was going or what street she was on. The strap of her bag cut through the jacket and into her shoulder. It felt so heavy, as if every hour of her aimless journey had added more weight to carry around. A boy came towards her. As he passed by she saw him grinning, pressing his lips together to muffle his giggles. No, she hadn’t imagined this. There were others, many people it seemed; all of them glancing, some even staring openly. The sneering laughter reverberated in her ears, high-pitched and low. Everywhere she turned she saw their hyena-like faces like reflections in a mirrored maze. Her heart was pounding hard. 

Hot, why was she feeling so damn hot? Her cheeks felt as if they were burning! Sheepishly, she combed her fingers through her hair, looked down at her clothes to make sure there was no stain or anything else that made her look ridiculous. She checked her shoes, those worn-out boots that squeezed her toes together, which were sore and swollen from running around. Nothing. She couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Maybe her face? There must be something wrong with her face. Dizzily, she bent down to look in the mirror of a parked car. She hadn’t been aware of how exhausted she was; she felt drained, dehydrated. There was nothing peculiar about her face; no breadcrumbs, no ketchup sticking to her skin. The eyeliner was a little bit smudged but this was barely noticeable in the twilight.

As she stepped away from the car, continuing her excursion, she looked into the passing faces, searching for clues to understand the cause of the giggles. Their chuckling seemed grotesque. The grinning crowd looked like a parade of fools. Quizzically, she studied the grimaces of passers-by. How ridiculous they look! The funny sounds of their laughter made her think of horses, monkeys; a whole zoo came into her mind. Giggles escaped her, reluctantly at first; then louder, relieving. Her laughter sounded like a shriek, much higher than her usual voice. Listening, she sought out similar laughs. Her! She sounds almost like me! It was like a new game: comparing everyone’s snorts.

Before she was aware of it, she had turned into one of them. 

by B.E. Seidl 

First published by Flash Fiction Magazine

Monday, December 1, 2014

Not Noughth Week

It's not noughth week for me
A minute mile and a decade east

Baby braced to my breast babbling
Bubbly bliss to the morning mist.

It's not noughth week for me
No rimey bike seat mark on jeans
Midas dust on shelves of everything
A blinking I on open window screen. 

In not noughth week no essay looms
Rumbling billow to be blown by breath
Fresh on the marks of a maizey margin
Pencilled thoughts that pulse past death. 

Here, a decade away, I no longer get to press reset for yet 
another noughth week.

I keep counting. 

by J.W.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What kind of stories fascinate you?

All of us grew up with some stories and they keep accompanying us throughout our lives as adults. Whether they are neatly bound in a book, put to moving pictures, sung on the radio or whispered on the phone -there are stories everywhere.

Which kind of stories do you like? 

I asked Afia Nkrumah, a London based writer and filmmaker, who has also contributed stories here at Cafe Aphra, the same question.

Barbara: Afia, what kind of stories fascinate you?

Afia: am quite broad in my tastes when it comes to stories, if a story moves me, or makes me see life in a different way or challenges my assumptions then I am interested. I grew up hearing Ananse stories and other traditional tales, as well as my family history. Learning to read at the age of ten, was for me was a magical thing, I thought and still do today that it is a form of telepathy. One person puts their thoughts on paper and another person can read those thoughts across time and space and know what that person was thinking.  For me that is truly magic!

Every saturday, BBC 2 showed two movies (mostly classics) in the afternoon which I watched religiously.  From Buster Keaton to the women centred films of Hollywwod's golden era and non mainstream films by little known filmmakers. 

As a kid I loved myths and legends and I suddenly had access to stories like Ovid's metamorphoses from centuries before I was born.  At school I was introduced to Chaucer and Shakespeare, Jane Austen and George Orwell. My dad was an obsessive book collector and our house was literally bursting with books, even under the stairs and in the shed. He had all sorts of books from Russian classics  to strange esoteric leather bound books and beautifully illustrated limited editions by the folio society. It was wonderful to have these books in my hands and be transported to all sorts of places or by new ideas. I also discovered writers from Africa and the diaspora like Amos Tutola, Sembene Ousmane, and Toni Morrison, Mia Angelou, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston.
So I'm fascinated by all kinds of stories from different cultures and different eras.

Barbara: Did you always know you wanted to create your own world through art?

Afia: I didn't know, but it is something I have always done. I spent much of my childhood creating characters and telling stories to myself. For example if I was told to clean my room, I would imagine I was a single parent moving into an apartment and incorporate my chores into my stories which I acted out. I would often use snatches of conversations I had heard from the adults around me in my stories, which got me into trouble once or twice! Indeed the main character from my latest film Shadow Man, is based on my uncle's friend Okokobioko, who always wore a cowboy hat and boots he never took off, even when he slept. I found him fascinating and different in so many ways. I would often watch them as they got ready to go on a night out on Fridays and eavesdrop on their conversations about seducing women and finding wives, which amused me greatly even as an eleven year old.  

Barbara: Do you feel being born and spending most of your childhood in Africa has influenced your work?

Afia: Being born in Africa and spending the first ten years of my life there has definitely influenced my work. I lived with my great aunt Lucy when I was growing up and she was a wonderful storyteller. Every night as the sun was going down, great aunt Lucy would tell me traditional stories  and she would weave whatever was happening in the village into the stories. She could make me weep and laugh so hard I peed in my pants, be so afraid after a story I daren't look up off the floor for fear of seeing some of the spirits and apparitions she had created with her words. And to this day the most important reason I tell stories is to move people, engage an audience emotionally and give a different perspective on some of the things we take for granted, without clubbing the audience on the head. 

Also in Ghana, and I suspect in most parts of Africa, the line between 'reality' and 'magic realism' is very thin. This lack of separation is a very clear influence in my work. So for example in Shadow Man, which is set in present day London about a young African man's attempts to become a British citizen, his dead uncle's spirit arrives to give advice  through proverbs and help him escape during a raid by the UK border agency. Okokobioko's misunderstanding of the proverbs is very funny.  

Shadow Man  © BombaxMedia 2014

Learn more about Afia's latest film Shadow Man:




Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fashion Care Packages to Alaska

The land of mullets, that was Alaska to a T (with a long tail hanging down from the flat top) and particularly the case in Clam Point, a small community on the peninsula south of Anchorage. Fashion was traditionally twelve years behind Paris, Tokyo, New York and London (grunge only hit in 2003) but recently cable TV and the internet had resulted in people's clothing and hairdos being only a decade behind.

That's when Molly, 17, asked her cousin to start sending care packages from London. Molly, atypically concerned with grooming in a state where fishing hip-waders counted as semi-formal, insisted that Carrie send her large packets bubble-wrapped and swaddled in brown paper, labelled A FASHION CARE PACKAGE TO CLAM POINT, ALASKA in big red letters, so the post office folks would realise that they were living in the style equivalent of an Alaskan glacier (inching forward while always regressing into the inevitable mullet) and, in Molly’s opinion, might do something about their flannel shirts tied around their waists, or at least switch up their Van Halen T-shirts.

In January 2013, Molly received a Top Shop goodie bag full of faux-90s costume jewellery and the latest issue of Grazia.

In March, Carrie sent Molly information about cool indie-kidz chatrooms and seventeen different retro badges for Molly to attach to her slogan T-shirt, only two of them retro-political ("Bliar" and "Stop the War"). Retro was now 2003, Molly astutely observed.

In August, there was just a pair of blood-red court-shoes ("They're still trendy again this autumn," Carrie wrote to Molly, "but I don't think they'll be next year, so wear them out.").

The September package, however, looked very peculiar to Molly. She took it home and didn't open it straight away at the post office the way she always did when she picked up her mail. The packaging, too crisp; the stamps looked wrong. Well. They were wrong – the date stamped from Cool Britannia was from two years in the future: September 2015. Molly, the most stylishly dressed teenager on the Point in a big-font slogan T-shirt and court-shoes, held her breath and opened the package.

The contents were an identical pair of blood-red court-shoes and a big-font slogan T-shirt, just as August’s package had been. Inside was a note.
    Dear Molly, 
London has become so avant-garde that it's depeche-mode. Everything's faster, so we have all decided to move ahead to 2015.  As you'll have noticed from reading the style mags I send you, "retro" is becoming closer. Fashion eats itself. It's only two years behind us now in London. These clothes are no good to me here. Or are they so hip it hurts? I can't tell anymore.
    Your cousin,

Molly bundled up the clothes, re-addressed the package as A FASHION CARE PACKAGE TO LONDON
in ostentatious lettering and mailed it back as a sympathy package to London, for her cousin could certainly use the help. These 2015 vestments were very much à la mode.

by Kathleen Bryson

Photo credit (c) Phil Bryson 
(The author Kathleen is on the right, wearing what were at the time exceedingly fashionable trousers; she is joined by her stylish mother and little brother) 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taking Turns

I will grow up and then your turn will come.
In the garden. Stillness.
On soft grass under trees,
jacket for pillow, hand under head,
Sons and Lovers,
Late afternoon birdsong.
Door bangs. Door slams.
Hurricanes out in heavy shoes,
my father, red-eyed,
hurls down steps. Hammering hands
draw leather, rain lashes.
No rain in lashes.
Lightning and thunder and stinging and strapping and cutting and bleeding.
No soft rain in lashes.
Nose in grass, hands over head.
‘You saw her go. You did not stop her.’
Brown beer breath. Brown leather lashes.
Heavy shoes, stomps steps.
Door slam. Door bang.
Hurricanes in.
Now only me, face in grass,
Wet smell. Green smell. Red eyes.
No more listening to her yelling and shouting and swearing and crying her pain.
But soon –
Soon I’ll be grown up. 
My fist drawing brown leather.
Soon I’ll be your size
And then your turn will come.

by Joy Manné

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rainbow Weather

"Rainbow weather," Jan sniffed. "Can't make its mind up." 

She stood at the sink, rubber gloves dripping. Shirts hung limply over the lawn: white crosses in a cemetery. There used to be little dresses flapping and a school uniform mucky from football.
"I’d take the washing in," Tom grunted, turning a page. "Looks like rain."
It wasn't her fault. Everyone thought the bruising was from the playground. Then the social worker called her in, asking questions. They took Anna out of school. She was so tired and washed-out, all that running around. Needed a good rest.
Tom thought she was anemic, said they should take her to the doctor's. Jan shuddered at the thought of all the prodding and poking, waiting rooms full of other people’s germs - so they took her to the seaside. The air would get her appetite back, put some colour in her.
The weather was kind at first, glorious sunshine and seagulls soaring in the blue. Anna was difficult, though. When they bought her an ice-cream her eyes lit up, but she only took a few licks before putting it aside.
"Spoilt, that's her trouble. If anyone had taken me to the seaside, I'd have been grateful." 
Anna cried as it started raining. They gathered their things in a hurry, dragging her to the car. She held her head, saying it hurt. Her nose bled all over the back seat. They took her to A&E.
When they were allowed to see her, flat and pale against the sheets, it had stopped raining. 
"Look poppet, a rainbow!" Jan had said, pointing. "That's lucky." 
"Jan?" Tom touched her shoulder lightly. She started. "Take the washing in love. It's raining."
by Sara Roberts 
First published in Flash Flood 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

The 2014 Café Aphra November Challenge

Last year, inspired by the annual Na-No-Wri-Mo Challenge, Cafe Aphra decided to hold our own version to encourage, motivate or just kick ourselves and our followers into some sort of regular writing activity over the month of November.

The 2013 was a great success with people committing a range of writing pursuits and finding that setting themselves a goal reaped rewards. Some decided to write for certain amounts of time each day, whether it was ten minutes first thing or an hour before bed. Some wanted to start or finish projects that had stagnated in the planning stages for far too long. Instead of writing some chose that other put-off activity of editing – taking words out can be as challenging and painful as putting them in.

So how about we do it again? What are you delaying, avoiding, hiding in the dark recesses of your desk drawers or hard drives? What have you promised yourself you’ll do one day? What have you put to the back of your mind until the time is ‘right’? November, with the nights drawing in and the chill of winter creeping into you bones, is the time to do it. Having a time limit – just 30 days – is also a great way to set yourself a goal. There is a clear beginning and end to this challenge and you can use it to stimulate or terrify yourself into action as you see fit. Sharing this activity amongst like-minded people in a writing community is also hugely motivating – we can support, encourage or harangue each other throughout the month.
We will use our Facebook page and this blog to post our ideas, personal challenges and comments and we'd love for you to do the same.
I’ve been letting an idea for a young adult novel simmer in the back of my head for over a year now and as I recently finished my masters dissertation I have no excuse not to get it started. My November challenge is to get the first three chapters written and a clear plan for the rest of it down on paper.
What will you do?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mighty Silver

A ramrod streak tore across
that blue canvas sky
With a mighty silver roar
It bellowed its beauty from high

Metallic heart of aluminium
Jet propelled fusilage
Pulsed with electricity
That wonderful flying bird visage

I watched from where I stood
Those dead wings fixed in flight
At boiling white tail feathers
And try as I might

I could not move my eyes
From the miracle I saw
That distant bird above
Sucked my soul up from the floor

I pledged my heart to it there and then
Before that dreadful bleak
Moment it was gone forever
Mighty silver ramrod streak

by Derek Dohren

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Taking a decision

It was a small advert, flickering on the right hand column of Stacey’s screen, but it spoke to her. Played on her mind. After another evening of silence - sat next to each other, eating off trays on their laps, kind ‘good nights’ and rolling away to their own thoughts - she’d had enough. She called the number, made the appointment.
            “You’ve been coming here for a few months now, do you feel any differently towards your husband?” asked the kindly looking old man with a pointy grey beard and half moon glasses. She shook her head.
            “No. It’s the same. But, well, I haven’t told you everything.”
            “For this to work, you need to be honest.”
            “I know.”
            “I’ve been seeing someone else.”
            “Having an affair?”
            “And how does that make you feel, Stacey?”
            Stacey squirmed. “Excited, alive... guilty.” The psychologist didn’t say anything, waiting patiently. “I don’t know what I want. It’s so silly, I don’t want to ruin everything, hurt him. I just wish I could feel like I did before.”
            “When you first met your husband?”
            “Yes... and for a good number of years after.”
            “Would it be true to say, and think about this carefully, would it be true to say that, what you really want is to feel the way you used to feel with your husband, rather than to feel the way you do about this new man?”
            Stacey sat back. She took a breath and closed her eyes briefly.
            “You’re sure?”
            She nodded.
            He leant back in his chair and lifted his hand. He reached towards a drawer in the his desk then paused. With a swift movement he pulled open the drawer and took out a small cardboard packet. He placed it on the desk and tapped a finger upon it.
            “I don’t usually like to prescribe pills, but in your case I think you’ll find they’ll help.”
            Stacey picked up the pack and turned it over in her hand. It was plain white, no markings.
            “Try them for a week or so, see how you feel. Of course, you don’t have to take them. It’s your choice.”
            The pills seemed to do little at first. Perhaps she felt a little calmer, a little more patient. Then after a couple of weeks her lover seemed less important to her, in fact she noticed things he did and said that aggravated her. He was just like any other man.
            Her husband reached out and held her hand one night after they put their dinner trays down, or she held his, she couldn’t remember. And then, five more pills and five more days later, when he came home from work, she went into the hall to greet him. It felt
as if he’d been gone a lifetime. They clung to each other as they hadn’t for years.
            Stacey awoke and gazed at her sleeping husband. She smiled and kissed his cheek. He murmured but did not wake. She got up and went to her handbag. Only one pill left. Later on, she called her psychologist. The number rang and went dead. She tried four more times.
            Stacey awoke with a start. She emptied her entire handbag on the ground, rifled through pockets and drawers. Nothing. She jumped in the car, driving anxiously through the traffic to his office. The door was locked, letters piled up on the mat inside. Stacey crumpled to her knees and wept.
            That evening she sat at the dinner table twisting her wine glass around by its stem. The front door slammed. A tear trickled down her face as her husband sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders.
            “Bad day?” he asked.
            Stacey nodded, letting her head fall heavily into his shoulder, “Thank god you’re home.”

by Tina Smith

Thursday, September 25, 2014


“Dave!” Ann took a step backwards. “It isn’t your business where I am.”

She sashayed across the marble floor on her Jimmy Choos and pressed a button. Georgy, sitting on a black leather sofa in red Armani casuals, could now hear the conversation.

“What the hell have I done with what?”

Ann’s neck jutted forward.

“Polite, Dave. We’re divorced now.”

She wiggled her hips over to the sofa and sat on its wide armrest. Georgy’s large hand cradled her buttocks.

“You had your netsuke collection valued? The best pieces have been replaced by copies?” Ann laughed. “You told the judge you don’t have a netsuke collection.”

Georgy patted Ann’s buttocks.

“Like you didn’t have a Jag. Remember? A year before the divorce. You changed it for a Fiesta and told me you’d lost all your money.”

She stalked over to a cabinet and chose a small object.

“Polite, Dave, or I’ll put the phone down.”

Ann fluttered her eyelash implants at Georgy.

“If you do have a Jag and a netsuke collection, we’ll have to go before the judge again. The Swiss give bank details now.”

She sat on the armrest again.

“You’ll bash me to pulp? Come and get me, Dave. I’m with Georgy Basilic, in a villa with bodyguards and servants in the South of France. …Yes, the Georgy Basilic. The woman boxing champion. My boxing teacher. You wanted me to learn.”

“Come any time, Dave,” Georgy growled into the phone.

Ann cut the connection.

“This beauty’s worth a half a million, darling.” She held out the object in her hand. “His dad collected, but he can’t tell one from another. And that’s not all I’ve taken.” She slid onto Georgy’s knees. “While he was filling his bank vaults,” Ann interrupted herself to kiss her, “I was filling mine.”

by Joy Manné

Thursday, September 18, 2014

FFF goes fortnightly...

Greetings all!

Just to let you know, for those of you who may not have noticed, we have decided to run our Cafe Aphra Flash Fiction Fridays series on a fortnightly basis from now on.

Looking forward to reading your work and posting up some beautiful polished gems every other Friday! Please do check our Submissions guidelines before emailing us your work. 

Also, Cafe Aphra now has a Twitter account... so for those of you who tweet, check us out and follow us on Twitter!

See you soon...